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Follow up: What is Agnostic? May 16, 2007

Posted by Ian in Religion.
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As a quick follow up to the previous post, I’d like to define what I see as agnosticism.

There are two different ways the term agnostic is used. The first is its more literal meaning of a person who denies or doubts the possibility of ultimate knowledge in some area of study (source). Pretty much everyone is (or should be) agnostic in that sense – “ultimate knowledge” is pretty much impossible as there is always some amount of doubt.

There is another meaning of agnosticism which is what I first thought it meant and I think most people also refer to. It is the fence sitting position of someone who doesn’t know whether god exists or not. Often it is used in religious company as an agnostic sounds much more reasonable than atheist.

What agnosticism is not is granting a 50-50 chance of either possibility being right.

I am agnostic about the subject of god, but not because I grant any credibility to the god hypothesis. To paraphrase Dawkins, I am as agnostic about god as I am about fairies, Thor, Bertrand Russel’s teapot or the flying spaghetti monster. In practical terms I am an atheist to all of these but at a purely honest scientific level agnosticism is a necessity.